The New York Rangers are in Nashville on Saturday night. That means rookie forward Jimmy Vesey will be playing his first game in the city since he decided not to sign with the team that drafted him so he could hit the free agent market this past summer and do what he felt was best for his development as a player.
He is not likely to receive a warm welcome.
His story was a pretty big one over the past few months. It was a journey that made him one of the most coveted players to be available in free agency this summer due to his age and potential for 28 NHL teams, while also making him a massive target for criticism when it came to the other two (Nashville and Buffalo).
Originally selected in the third-round of the 2012 NHL draft by the Predators, Vesey informed the team late last season that he would not be signing with them after completing his collegiate career at Harvard so he could become a free agent. The Predators insisted Vesey had assured them he would sign with the team, a claim that Vesey’s camp denied one day later.
Eventually the Predators traded Vesey’s rights to the Buffalo Sabres in June for a third-round draft pick. After a lengthy free agency courtship with several teams, he eventually decided on the Rangers. That decision also resulted in a harsh reception when the Rangers visited Buffalo earlier this season.
Vesey said on Saturday, via Adam Vingan of the Tennessean, that he expects this game to be the worst of it.
“I kind of have been knowing it was coming,” Vesey said. “It’s going to be the worst of it and once this game is done with, maybe it’ll settle down.”
Vesey has been a pretty big addition to the Rangers lineup this season and has helped contribute to their improved forward depth that has made them one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference so far.
He already has 10 goals in his first 31 games, putting him on a 26-goal pace for the season. Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (the top-two picks in the 2016 NHL draft) are the only two rookies with more goals than him this season.
The other important factor for the Rangers was the fact they needed to find a way to add more young talent into their organization after trading so many prospects and first-round draft picks over the past few years in an effort to keep making runs at the Stanley Cup. They have not picked in the first round since 2012 and have only two second-round picks during that time. Being able to add a young player like Vesey without giving up anything in return is a massive addition.